Marie-Andrée Gill’s Heating the Outdoors

A Journey of Introspection and Decolonial Resilience: A Review of a Translation by Kristen Renee Miller of Marie-Andrée Gill’s Heating the Outdoors by Ayaat Ismail

Marie-Andrée Gill's collection of micro poems, Heating the Outdoors, is a profound invitation to embark on a journey of introspection in search of one's identity. Set against the backdrop of Nitassinan territory, the collection's visceral themes beckon readers to immerse themselves in a transformative experience. Translated by Kristen Renee Miller, these irreverent yet lyrical poems offer a rare glimpse into the intersection of Ilnu and Québécoise identities while tackling the weighty themes of decolonization and territory.

In this book, Gill blends popular culture and existentialism to create a captivating fusion of old and new, slang and transcendence, resulting in an act of decolonial resilience that is both refreshing and inspiring. As I read this collection, I found myself contemplating the impact of language on our understanding of the world and the importance of uplifting Indigenous voices in art and literature. Gill's writing left a lasting impression, prompting profound questions about the power of language and the effects of translation. Heating the Outdoors is a must-read for anyone interested in exploring the complexities of identity, culture, and decolonization through the lens of powerful, transformative poetry.

Gill is an acclaimed French-language poet from the Mashteuiatsh reserve in Quebec. Her writing focuses on the decolonial project of sharing intimate stories that challenge colonial narratives. As a member of the Ilnu Nation and the host of the award-winning Radio-Canada podcast "Laissez-nous raconter: L'histoire crochie," Gill is deeply committed to her community and to amplifying marginalized voices. She has been nominated for numerous awards, including the Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry, and her work is a powerful testament to the power of storytelling in resistance and reclamation.

Miller is a poet, translator, and executive director and editor-in-chief of Sarabande Books. Miller has translated two of Gill's books, including Heating the Outdoors, and Spawn showcasing her exceptional talent as a translator. Her outstanding literary achievements have earned her numerous awards and fellowships, including the prestigious 2023 NEA Fellowship. Miller's own poetry has appeared in many esteemed literary journals, such as Poetry Magazine, The Kenyon Review, and Best New Poets. She currently resides in Louisville, Kentucky, where she continues to make a significant impact in the literary world.

As I read Heating the Outdoors, I realized that the collection reflects our ongoing struggle with nature. The title, a metaphor for our ceaseless desire to control and manipulate our surroundings, provides a glimpse into the collection's soul. However, Gill's poetry surpasses the mere portrayal of our hubris and encourages us to embrace the natural world with open arms, to cherish and protect it with all our might. One will discover a rich tapestry of emotions within these pages, weaved with threads of love, grief, and the beauty of the world around us. The poems in the book's opening section, "Like Nothing Ever Happened," are a shining example of Gill's distinctive style. They are an eclectic mashup of lyricism and colloquialism that conveys a spirit of transcending resilience while remaining irreverent.

One of the aspects that stood out to me most about the collection was the power and beauty of the poet's words. Gill creates evocative descriptions that linger in the mind long after the reading is done. In one particularly striking excerpt, she compares blowing words to expiring milk, evoking a sense of desperation and urgency: "The way you blow a kiss kept in your palm/I blow words with a stale hope in the pit of my throat a last drink of milk before it expires." And in another, the image of a gasoline-soaked heart is both visceral and haunting: "Love is a virgin forest then a clearcut in the next line/You're the clump of blackened spruce that lights my gasoline-soaked heart." Reading Gill's poetry, I found myself reflecting on my own relationship with language and the natural world. The collection explores how we as humans interact with the environment around us, and Gill's words encourage us to consider our duty to protect and preserve it.

The primary significance, for me, of Heating the Outdoors lies in its exploration of themes such as decolonization, linguistics, and love through the lens of an Indigenous woman's experience. Gill's micro poems are powerful in brevity, delivering profound insights with minimal words. The collection delves into the complexities of identity and how communication and land intersect with personal relationships.

The fact that the collection is rooted in the Nitassinan territory, the ancestral home of the Ilnu Nation, makes it all the more important. By interrogating and reclaiming language and land, Gill contributes to the ongoing efforts to decolonize Indigenous peoples' experiences. She is also shedding light on the ways in which imperialism has distorted Indigenous experiences because of this. Gill's collection provides a unique viewpoint on intimate relationships, showcasing the mundanity and discomfort of life after a breakup while examining the historical and ancient backdrops that shape her identity as an Ilnu and Québécoise woman.

Miller's translation is equally impressive, effectively conveying the essence of Gill's writing and making it accessible to readers who may not be familiar with the Ilnu language or indigenous works. I think Miller did a fantastic job of translating these poems from French to English, and it really enhances Heating the Outdoors as a work of art that transcends linguistic and cultural barriers. Miller's work is a monument to the art and craft of literary translation itself and emphasizes the vital role that the translator plays in this process. This work is, in my opinion, a tribute to the potency of words and the value of elevating many viewpoints and voices in our cultural conversations.

Heating the Outdoors is a stunning and significant compilation of poems. It is a must-read for anyone interested in contemporary poetry and the complex relationship between language, land, and identity. Heating the Outdoors welcomes readers on an emotional and intellectual voyage, a poetic odyssey that enlightens the human condition and stirs the soul. This book, which honors Indigenous culture and vernacular while addressing themes of love, sorrow, and transformation on a universal level, had me completely enthralled. You won't be able to put this captivating book down.

Pick up your copy of Heating the Outdoors today.

You can listen to Kristen Renee Miller discussing the topic of translation on our podcast here and her poem Three Mistranslations from Issue 18 here.

AYAAT ISMAIL is an Assistant Editor of Miracle Monocle.